A Valley in a Valley: Colonial Struggles over land and resources in the Hunter Valley, NSW 1820-1850

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Copyright: Dunn, Mark
This thesis investigates the colonial Hunter Valley from the closing years of the penal station at Newcastle in the early 1820s until the end of convict assignment in the early 1840s. It examines the gaps in the historiography of the colonial Hunter Valley, namely the post-contact Aboriginal valley and the place of convicts in the establishment and development of the Hunter. These two groups, highly visible during the period have all but disappeared from the written history of the Hunter. Instead much of the colonial history of the valley has focused on the arrival and settlement of free emigrants, post 1820, who were given access to large grants of land to farm. The legacy of this period can be seen in the remnant grand mansions and homesteads that remain standing throughout the valley, dominating prominent hillsides and riverfront properties. These homesteads are the prism through which much of the colonial history of the Hunter Valley has been viewed. They represent a civilised landscape, a place that was settled by Europeans with seemingly little of the frontier violence and trauma that affected other areas like Bathurst or the Liverpool Plains. However they are facades behind which hide much of the realities of the colonial Hunter Valley. By a close reading of contemporary letters, journals, reports and documents, the contact and connectedness between Aboriginal people and convict, emancipist and free Europeans is examined and the interdependency that each group had on the other revealed. Violence was juxtaposed with co-operation, with alliances and friendships established across race and class. The thesis also considers the role of the physical environment in the process. The colonial history of the Hunter cannot be fully understood without a consideration of the environment of the place itself. The valleys natural resources drew people to it, both Aboriginal and European, while its rivers, forests and mountains, shaped the way they lived, worked and interacted with each other. By returning these lost peoples and elements to the colonial history of the Hunter Valley, this thesis illustrates the complexities, influences and ambitions that shaped the place and its occupants.
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Dunn, Mark
Karskens, Grace
Balint, Ruth
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PhD Doctorate
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